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After community pitches in to help with heart surgery, Elmar Silzer is back in the game

By DIANNE RUSSELL

According to Wendy Crimp, a close friend of 72-year-old Elmar Silzer, you couldn’t go anywhere in Laguna during the last five decades without spotting him. So embedded was Silzer in the local culture, he was a regular fixture at concerts, venues, restaurants, and happenings.

It’s no surprise that since he’s been in Laguna so long, he knows a lot of people, and everyone knows him, he says.

Until heart problems halted his activities, residents have likely seen him riding his bike around town with his tennis racket on his back. He also surfs and was very active before his condition was diagnosed.

With the generous help of the community, he was able to have surgery last September to fix a faulty heart valve, and now he’s back on the courts playing tennis seven days a week. 

Condition diagnosed

Four years ago, while playing tennis, Silzer noticed he was slowing down. “I hadn’t been to the doctor in 40 years,” he says. “I never felt the need.

“The doctor found an irregular heartbeat. I started deteriorating and stopped playing tennis. I realized I was setting myself up for a major heart attack and that I had played Russian Roulette for too long. I didn’t have a choice, because the longer I waited, the more irreversible the damage might get.”

Adding to his anxiety was the knowledge that both his father and brother died of heart attacks – his father at 55 and his brother at 52.

Considering his family history, one wonders why he put off surgery so long. “I wasn’t afraid of the operation, I was afraid the operation could disable me – I’m very active,” he says. “Or that it wouldn’t cure the condition.”

Financial concerns

Then there was the financial issue.

Although he had Medicare to cover the in-hospital expenses, he required assistance with medical expenses not covered by Medicare. In addition, he was struggling with a loss of income due to his pre-operative physical deterioration and needed support for a couple of weeks post-op.

When the community learned of his plight, residents immediately responded,  and his GoFundMe reached $15,000.

Crimp says, “Since his surgery, he is grateful for all that the community did to support him during his time of need! He calls all of you ‘his angels.’” 

After community Elmar

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Dianne Russell

Elmar at Main Beach, one of his favorite places

At the beginning of last year, Elmar says, “I had pneumonia, but then I didn’t know how I would supply myself with the basics. The donations from the community really lifted my spirits, and I went on to feel that whatever happened, the operation would have a good outcome.”

“Crimp, a highly qualified nurse and friend for 30 years, pushed me in the right direction,” he says. “I just marvel at the whole process – the thanks belongs to the doctors and to everyone involved in helping me. My focus now is to take the fear out of it and inspire people.”

Mary Smith, another longtime friend, was also instrumental in the process.

Coming to the U.S. and Laguna

In 1969, he immigrated to the U.S. from Germany thanks to an aerospace sponsor. “I didn’t know what was waiting for me,” he admits.

Then one day in 1974, a friend of his said, “Let’s go to Laguna Beach.”

Silzer remembers it vividly. “We were driving down Laguna Canyon Road, and when we rounded the corner at Big Bend, even before I saw the ocean, it got me,” he says. “In 1980, I stopped traveling throughout the world in the racing business as a pit crew supervisor at Le Mans, Grand Prix, and Daytona. It was exhausting.”

For 10 years – during which time he was married and divorced – he ran a Mercedes-Benz restoration business in the canyon on Sun Valley Drive. He also patented several inventions for automobile parts but has been retired for the last 20 years.

“I was there working 24/7,” he admits. “I decided time was more important than income.” 

Back in the game

Only five months after the heart valve repair, and without any lingering side effects, Silzer says, “I’m back to 95 percent.” 

Referring to the long zipper-like scar on his chest, he harkens back to his days as a supervisor for pit crews. “They opened up the hood and cleaned it up.”

Giving credit to his fantastic surgeons at Hoag Hospital – Dr. Anthony D. Ciattarelli and Dr. Darel J. Beuveuati – Silzer recouped quickly. “I had no pain, and I never took a pain pill. I’m a little shy of meds.” 

Post-surgery, he only takes a daily baby aspirin.

After seven days in the hospital, he was transferred to a nursing home. “It was good,” he says. “It kept me from doing things too early.”

His daughter, who went to the Laguna College of Art and Design, was there for him during the entire ordeal, but she will soon be moving to Washington. 

“We’re very close,” he says.

Regarding the support from the community, Silzer adds, “I’m really grateful and stunned. It’s unreal that I got a chance to squeeze out a few more years.”

It seems he’s taking full advantage of that chance – he’s leaving soon for an RV trip down to Baja to surf. “I love Baja. There are magic things there – the emptiness with no media. 

“Reality is very different now. The journey has been incredible. I minimized everything that’s not essential. Right now I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.”